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Tackling Homophobia in Sport (18th September 2017)
Last week, I was delighted to be informed that my motion on ‘Tackling Homophobia in Sport’ had been selected for a Members’ Business Debate for Tuesday 19th September. I was extremely pleased my motion received cross-party support from thirty of my parliamentary colleagues.
Despite the advances in LGBT equality in Scotland since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, such as the repeal of Section 28, the equal adoption rights for same sex couples and the passage of the equal marriage legislation in 2014, discrimination against LGBT people in Scotland sadly still persists.
Homophobic and transphobic abuse in Scottish sport is a growing concern and an issue which must be dealt with seriously. Recent research from Stonewall highlighted that a staggering 70 per cent of fans have heard homophobic abuse in the stands at a Scottish football game. It is a pertinent issue that has gone under the radar for too long.
A common example highlighted in Stonewall’s research is at football games, homophobic slurs are often used to criticise footballers who are having a poor game. Research by the Equality Network in 2012 identified football as the sport which has the biggest challenges to overcome in relation to LGBT inclusivity.
Roughly 100,000 people in Scotland identify themselves as ‘LGB and Other’. However, there are still no openly-gay or bisexual, male professional footballers in Scotland, or across the UK.
The lack of any visible role models makes it extremely difficult for a young gay or bi male to feel confident about being themselves if they can’t see anyone else like them in the sport.
There is a clear issue with the culture in football across the UK. This culture must change. Football must change. It must become a sport which is open, inclusive and welcoming to all, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
This is why I believe the Equality Network’s LGBT Sports Charter is such a vital tool in promoting LGBT inclusivity in Scottish football.
I am delighted that so far, thirteen professional football clubs have signed the charter, including top-flight clubs, Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and St. Johnstone. I am particularly pleased that Dumbarton FC, who are based in my West of Scotland constituency have committed to ending LGBT discrimination and promoting inclusivity by signing up to the LGBT Sports Charter.
Furthermore, in the last month, we have seen Aberdeen establishing the first ever LGBT Supporters group in Scotland, known as the ‘Proud Dons’. Dundee FC have also followed suit with the establishment of their own LGBT supporters group, the ‘Proud Dees’.
There has also been an increase in support for professional football clubs in Scotland to create new LGBT supporter’s groups, with both Celtic and Hearts supporter’s using social media in an effort to establish new LGBT supporter’s groups for their respective clubs.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Stonewall, who have done great work for many years to promote LGBT inclusivity in sport through their high-profile ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign.
Last November, the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign garnered a huge level of support in football with the English FA publicly backing the campaign. A whole host of English Premier League stars backed the campaign by wearing the rainbow laces or a rainbow armband, including Jermain Defoe, Fernandinho and Jamie Vardy.
I trust that my members’ debate tomorrow afternoon will be consensual in nature and will hopefully shine a spotlight on the growing issue of homophobia and LGBT discrimination in Scottish sport.
I hope that increased attention on homophobia and LGBT discrimination in Scottish sport will put this very important issue high up the Scottish Government’s agenda and raise public awareness to the continuing homophobic and transphobic attitudes which still persists in Scottish sport.
It is vitally important that all sports clubs, football clubs, sports facilities and football stadiums are open, inclusive and welcoming to all people, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
You will be able to watch the debate live at https://www.scottishparliament.tv/ from 5pm onwards tomorrow evening.
You can read more about Stonewall’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign here: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/rainbow-laces
You can find all signatories to the LGBT Sports Charter here: http://www.equality-network.org/sports-charter/sports-charter-signatories/
Brightest Star (15th August 2017)
Last Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Arlene Clark of Brightest Star at their Linwood offices, to learn more about the work of the charity.
Arlene sadly lost her son, Jack Kennedy in December 2012, aged five years old after an Adenal virus attacked his heart. Arlene founded Brightest Star in Jack’s memory with the aim of proving support to bereaved families.
In Scotland, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have estimated that every year, between 350 and 450 children aged under 19 years old, lose their life each year. Unfortunately, counselling services for bereaved parents and family members are severely underfunded and the service is stretched to capacity, resulting in lengthy waiting lists.
In addition to a lack of counselling services, there is also a lack of finance and planning to provide parents with essential resources, such as cuddle cots and cuddle blankets, which can provide great comfort and support to bereaved parents and families in the hours and days following the death of a child.
In founding Brightest Star, Arlene had three clear aims to try and provide bereaved parents and families with vital support which had been hitherto limited.
The first aim was to provide support facilities for bereaved parents in Scotland, particularly for sudden deaths in childhood. Secondly, Brightest Star aimed to provide vital first aid training and thirdly the charity aimed to provide a special ambulance that could be used by families when children need to transfer to other hospitals.
Since its foundation, Brightest Star have been able to support over 500 bereaved families across Scotland due to its incredible fundraising efforts, which has seen the charity raise over £700,000.
Annually, thousands of people have fundraised for the charity by taking part in national events such as Colour Me Rad, The Kilt Walk, The Great Scottish Run and Tough Mudder as part of ‘Jack’s Army’.
Arlene has also received incredible support over the last five years from staff and pupils at Trinity High School, Renfrew, where she teaches Computing Studies. Since Brightest Star’s foundation, the staff and pupils at Trinity have raised thousands of pounds annually for the charity, through coffee mornings and a variety of other sponsored events, including participating in the Men and Women’s 10K.
Brightest Star’s incredible fundraising efforts have allowed the charity to meet their three founding aims.
In 2016, Brightest Star opened their ‘Hulk’s Haven’, at their offices in Linwood, offering a place where bereaved parents and siblings can visit for support, helping the charity meet their first founding aim.
Hulks Haven is a dedicated Bereavement Hub that provides parents and siblings with the opportunity to meet other bereaved parents and to access one to one professional support, as well as optional group support sessions. The name ‘Hulk’s Haven’ is a tribute to Jack who loved Marvel’s Hulk character.
It is important to mention that the counselling and support services that Brightest Star provide are not only for bereaved parents, but also for siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
In meeting its second founding aim, Brightest Star now provides Paediatric Emergency First Aid Courses to anyone who wants to learn life-saving skills in cases of CPR, choking, seizures and the use of defibrillators.
You can sign up for the First Aid training at www.brightestar.org.uk.
These sessions have twelve spaces and take place regularly across the greater Glasgow region. The ability to administer First Aid can often be the difference between life and death, providing vital support before medical professionals arrive.
Brightest Star has also been successful in meeting their third founding aim of providing a family ambulance which allows parents to transfer from one hospital to another in cases of emergency. Four years in the planning, Arlene is delighted that the essential ambulance is currently being constructed and hopefully will be delivered to the Scottish Ambulance Service later this year.
In addition to the three founding aims, Arlene has also been able to provide bereaved parents with cuddle cots and cuddle mattresses. Brightest Star has provided two hospitals with cuddle cots for children, whilst the charity also have two cuddle mattress, for use on single beds for older children and young adults, available for loan. These cuddle mattresses allow families to take their child home before the funeral process.
Cuddle cots and cuddle mattress are pieces of medical equipment which act like a refrigerated cradle or bed, allowing children who have passed away to stay in the room with their parents, meaning the children do no need to be taken straight to the morgue.
Spending time with your child after they die is precious. Cuddle cots and cuddle blankets are essential as they allow families to have this time.
Arlene is a truly inspiring individual; a woman of indomitable spirit. It is a tribute to her relentless dedication that in less than five years, Brightest Star has established itself as one of the leading charities in Scotland which supports families affected by child bereavement.
Arlene’s next fundraiser is The Brightest Star Ball on Saturday 28th October at The Hilton Hotel, Glasgow. Tickets for the event cost £60 and are available to purchase through the Brightest Star website.
You can donate to Brightest Star at https://www.justgiving.com/brighteststarscotland/donate/?utm_source=website_cid249112&utm_medium=buttons&utm_content=brighteststarscotland&utm_campaign=donate_purple
All contact details are available at www.brighteststar.org.uk.
Facebook – Brightest Star Charity
Twitter – @brighteststar_1
Thoughts on the upcoming General Election (5th June 2017)
On Thursday we will once again go to the polls. This is the seventh national election in the last three years and voter fatigue is a real concern. The Tories have played a political game by calling this snap election in the first play. They are counting on voter fatigue in order to maximise their vote. They do not want you to vote. However, this election is of seismic importance. The choice is as clear as it has ever been: a radical, inclusive and modern Labour Party or a nasty and incompetent Conservative Party.
Over the last few weeks, the polls have narrowed, highlighting that there is still all to play for. A recent YouGov poll has put Labour on 39% of the vote, only 3% behind the Tories. A majority Labour Government is a very real proposition. If you want a Labour Government, it is critically important turn out and vote for it.
Young voters have the opportunity to shape the outcome of this election; however, they can only shape the outcome if they turn out to vote on polling day. I was very pleased to read that in the month following Theresa May’s snap election, around one million young people have registered to vote.
However, despite this large uptake in voter registration, turnout among the 18-24 age group is still predicted to be the lowest of all age categories. A recent ICM poll revealed that only 44% of 18-24 year olds said they were 10/10 certain to vote at Thursday’s General Election, compared with 66% of the 35-64 age group and over 80% of over 65s. It is now, more important than ever before that young people turn up and vote.
The winner of next week’s General Election will have a profound impact on our country for not just the next five years, but for generations to come. A Tory victory, with Theresa May as Prime Minister, presents a danger to the future of our country with their incompetent and weak leadership. They will pursue an increasingly right-wing agenda, centred around turbo-charged austerity, with higher taxes for working people, continued wage stagnation and tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and big corporations. This is coupled with their callous policies on immigration and welfare which aim to marginalise and oppress the most vulnerable members of our society, including the unfair ‘dementia tax’ and morally repugnant ‘rape clause’.
Labour’s manifesto is a clear, costed and modern programme for government which aims to make our country work in the interests of the many, and not just the very wealthy few. Our manifesto offers a vision for the future – it offers something to vote for.
In government, Labour will raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour for all workers, giving millions of workers a pay rise overnight. We will ban zero hour contracts and ban unpaid internships to stop the exploitation of workers. Labour will extend the rights of trade unions by repealing the unfair and discredited Trade Union Act and ensuring all workers’ rights to trade union representation at work so that all workers can be supported when negotiating with their employer. We will also guarantee extra time off for workers by creating four new bank holidays and doubling paid paternity leave from four weeks, to eight weeks.
Our vision is clear – a fairer, forward looking, modern nation. Labour’s manifesto pledges can only be enacted if Labour win the General Election. A Labour Government can only be achieved if people across the country, turn up and vote Labour on Thursday.
The issue in Scotland is that the SNP portray themselves as a party of the left but this is simply not the reality. The SNP talk left but act right. This week, Julia Rampen in the New Statesman highlighted the disparity between the SNP’s rhetoric and its action. For example, the SNP says it supports a 50p top rate of tax, however on December 14th 2016 the SNP voted with the Tories in Scottish Parliament to vote against Scottish Labour’s plan for a 50p top rate of tax. In relation to the railways, in 2015 the SNP opposed Scottish Labour’s call to nationalise the Scotrail franchise, instead the SNP awarded the £6 billion ScotRail franchise to Abellio, which is part of the Netherlands’ state-run rail service.
The SNP has also let young people down in Scotland. In 2007, the party pledged to scrap all student debt, however within 18 months they had reneged on this promise and fail to scrap the huge debt burden faced by tens of thousands of students.
Ultimately, the outcome of this election will be either a Tory Government or a Labour Government. The Prime Minister will either by Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. No matter how many seats the SNP win, they can’t stop the Tories from winning the election. At the General Election in 2015, the SNP won a majority of the seats, however the Tories still won a majority. Voting Labour is the only alternative to a Tory Government. If you want to kick the Tories out of Downing Street, only a vote for Labour will help to achieve this.
The Labour Party has been a powerful tool for change in the past, from the establishment of the NHS in 1945, to the introduction of the minimum wage and tax credits in 1997, as well as the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. If Labour are given the responsibility on Thursday to enter government, we can once again reform this country for the better, offering a brighter future and ensuring that economy works in the interests of the many and not the privileged few.
In Scotland, if you want to kick the Tories out of Downing Street; if you want a Labour Government then you have to go to your local polling station and vote Labour on Thursday .
Thoughts on International Women’s Day and the Fight for Equality (10th March 2017)
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, was to #BeBoldForChange.
We must ‘Be Bold for Change’ – the current situation is not acceptable.
Gender inequality is still rife – whether it be in relation to equal pay, employment opportunities, representation in politics and in business or the continued existence of gender based violence, women are still fighting for equality.
The scale of gender inequality was highlighted by a recent article in the Telegraph which noted the World Economic Form research which stated that the economic gender gap has in fact widened, and based on current trends, it will take until 2186 to eradicate.
Over the past week, I have been inspired by numerous examples, from across the world, of initiatives aimed at reducing gender inequality and empowering women.
On International Women’s Day, as reported in the Independent, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies that they pay all their employees the same, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. This legislation was introduced in an effort to help Iceland meet its aim of eradicating the gender pay gap by 2022.
Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40 per cent quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees and they have been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running.
The BBC coverage of International Women’s Day highlighted numerous examples of collective action and solidarity by the women’s movement. In United States, International Women’s Day rallies took place in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington with some employers giving women time off to attend.
In Poland, women staged rallies and marches to protest against gender-based violence and for equal rights; whilst in Montenegro hundreds of women protested against cuts in state aid for mothers of three or more children, and in Romania dozens of women lay on the ground and read out the names of women killed by their partners to highlight domestic violence.
Here in Scotland, we must draw inspiration from the dedication and fight shown from these inspirational women in our efforts to eradicate gender inequality.
In Scotland, we are often good at praising our achievements in relation to gender equality. And, of course, Scotland has had some good achievements in recent years with a number of high profile female role models emerging in politics. We have a female First Minister, a 50:50 gender balanced Cabinet and female leaders of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives.
However, when we analyse the figures, it is clear that we must me more honest about the prevailing level of gender inequality in Scotland.
Engender’s recent ‘Sex and Power’ report highlighted how prevalent gender inequality continues to be in Scotland. Women make up 52% of Scotland’s population, however, only 35% of our one hundred and twenty-nine MSPs are women. This is lower than the percentage of women represented in Parliament in Angola, Burundi and Slovenia.
At local government level, only 25% of all our local councillors and a mere 16% of our thirty-two council leaders are women.
The fact is that men are not more naturally suited to positions of power, however women consistently face barriers to advancing in to leadership roles, including unlawful discrimination and harassment, whilst men benefit from cultural and societal expectations of authority, power and leadership.
There is no reason why we should not aim for Scotland to be ranked the best in world for gender equality. I welcome and support the Scottish Government’s “Partnership for change 50:50 by 2020” initiative as a step in the right direction but we must redouble our efforts to make gender equality a key priority for this Scottish parliament going forward.
If we want to be bold about gender equality in Scotland, we must stop be honest about the improvements we have to make. Scotland needs to learn from and by inspired by examples from our European neighbours, and from across the world.
We must be bold in ambition, innovative in our ideas and work together to radically improve gender equality in Scotland. We cannot wait for gender equality to happen. We must bring about change.
Women Working for Free for 21 Working Days. (9th December 2016)
Since 10th November women have now worked the equivalent of 21 working days for free due to the ‘gender pay gap’. Although this is one day later than last year, I can find little cause for celebration that women continue to be paid less than men even when doing the same job. It is estimated by the Fawcett Society that the 13.9% pay gap between men and women in the UK will take 60 years to close, assuming of course that the current disparity does not increase.
The ‘gender pay gap’ does not reveal the many other ways women lose out in the workplace. Women are more likely than men to be employed in part-time roles and tend to be socialised into taking on unpaid roles such as caring for children and elderly relatives. In fact, according to an article in Fortune magazine by Melinda Gates, globally women are estimated to spend an average of 4.5 hours per day on unpaid work, with the difference even greater in the developing world – in India for example women are thought to undertake 6 hours of unpaid work each day with men carrying out less than one hour. The tendency for women to be engaged in unpaid domestic work starts early in life – American girls typically spend around 2 hours more on chores than boys and are paid 15% less for doing so. Moreover, when women do participate in the world of work, they tend to be concentrated in low paid and lower skilled roles often referred to as the ‘Five C’s’ – cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering (retail) and caring work.
An article in the Independent newspaper on 23rd November claiming that ‘nasty’ women get paid more offers little consolation. Telling women to alter their behavior to be more aggressive in order to be paid more is frankly insulting. Women and men bring different skills and experiences to the workplace and these should be valued equally. Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the gender pay gap will not be achieved simply by instructing women to behave differently. Instead, a fundamental shift in how we view women and work is required. For example, increased opportunities for flexible working practices could be one possible solution – unaffordable childcare costs is believed to be the main reason why so many women are working part-time. In addition, a recognition that raising a family counts as work and extending the forthcoming policy for companies with over 250 staff to reveal the difference in pay between male and female employees to all companies regardless of size would go some way to narrow the gender pay gap.
We also need to consider the role of education in reducing income inequality between men and women. Although some progress has been made towards getting more women to study STEM subjects after years of young women being pushed towards ‘traditional’ female careers, there is still a significant gender divide – according to Equate Scotland just 5% of engineers are women. There is zero evidence to suggest that women are any less competent than their male counterparts yet women consistently are found to be absent from the higher paying STEM industries and less likely to be in management roles across all sectors. Until we start viewing women’s work as equal to men’s work, not only will women continue to be paid less, but our economic growth will not reach its full potential. Therefore, the responsibility is on us all to create a more equal world for women so we no longer have to say things like ‘Prepare your daughter for working life – give her less pocket money than your son’.